MRR Review: "Need for Speed"

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Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.
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Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: March 14, 2014
Directed by: Scott Waugh
Genre: Action / Crime / Drama

"Need for Speed" tells the story of Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a former racer who never made it to the big time. Prompted by a local DJ named Monarch (Michael Keaton), he finds himself making a deal with former rival Dino (Dominic Cooper). The deal goes sour over speculation that Tobey is a far better driver than his rival, who went on to race professionally, and a race leads to the apparent death of one of Tobey's friends. The movie skips to two years later, when Tobey enlists the assistance of Julia (Imogen Poots), to get revenge on Dino.

The movie has many excellent actors, even though their dialog tends to cut down on their performances. Paul, fresh from his success on the small screen, delivers an admirable performance as Tobey and shows signs of possible action-movie greatness throughout the film. Keaton's relatively minor role doesn't give him enough room to truly show his well-established talent, and Cooper's interactions with Paul frequently allow him to steal the scene. Poots delivers an excellent portrayal of Julia, but stilted dialog and strange directorial choices detract somewhat from her role in the film.

The cinematography of "Need for Speed" is one area where viewers are likely to notice stalls and stutters. The scenes are often bland and relatively devoid of action, with chases feeling more like 55 mile-per-hour romps down the highway than high-stakes challenges. A few noticeable showcase elements, including a race down an airstrip or trip to the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats, help pull the setting slightly above average. These scenes are few and far between, however. The lighting and camera transitions are exactly what moviegoers are likely to expect from a modern racing film.

"Need for Speed" provides carte blanche for its screenwriter, but the film never truly dedicates itself to anything more than a standard racing movie. The script teeters between a focus on romance, racing rivalry, high-speed action, and documentary-style comeback stories without ever giving enough time and attention to any single element. This rough approach to storytelling is likely to leave moviegoers feeling that they are missing something, even if they cannot quite put their fingers on it. Plot holes regularly appear and are dismissed as though they are unimportant. They quite often turn out to be just that. The dialog is stilted and the actors do an amazing job of creating chemistry while delivering some of the strangest and seemingly most ill-fitted lines to appear in a modern script. There is also some noticeable problems where technical speech about cars appears to be incorrect, but this may only detract from the enjoyment of hardcore racing fans or video gamers.

Part of the film's slightly above-average take is likely due to the prowess of the director. Scott Waugh does a wonderful job of tying together the many diverse elements, even if he does not give enough screen time to any of them to allow them to dominate and drive the film. His visualization of both the racing and personal interactions in the movie shines through in most cases, with the only noticeable hiccups being the slow pace of many of the chase scenes and lack of action throughout much of the film's middle section. Waugh manages to get excellent performances out of both veteran and new screen actors alike, despite strange and stilted dialog, which is another testament to his skill.

Rating: 3 out of 5